“Honestly this is the first time I’ve went into a tournament and felt like we could win the tournament…we just have so much firepower.” — jdm64 at the ECS LAN Finals.
When the new Liquid roster was announced, palpable excitement ran through the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive community. North American CS:GO had always had roster problems, as players and orgs refused to make a dream team roster that could dominate the region and challenge the best in the world. The new Liquid roster was that dream team. It included: Nick“nitr0“ Cannella, Jonathan “EliGE“ Jablonowski, Spencer “Hiko“ Martin, Josh “jdm64“Marzano, Jacob “Pimp” Winneche and Luis “peacemaker“ Tadeu.
Here was a team you could get behind. Nitr0 was for a brief time the best NA player. EliGE was a top-five NA player that has steadily been improving and developing his game. Hiko is the most successful NA CS:GO player in history. Jdm64 was the star AWPer of Counter Logic Gaming, the best AWPer in the region and was once the best player in the region. Pimp was a former superstar player for Western Wolves, a player who was capable of everything and could give Liquid experience, firepower and clutch under pressure. Peacemaker was the ex-coach of Tempo Storm whose leadership and system helped formed the identity of the team that went on to become a top-10 team in the world.
All of this was made possible by Hiko’s pure stubborn ambition. Ex-Liquid coach James “GBJame^s” O’ Connor revealed Hiko was the driving force behind everything. He pushed the hardest for a full time in-game leader/coach, he was the one who facilitated the jdm64 trade and he was the one who recruited the Ukrainian superstar Oleksandr “s1mple“ Kostyliev in their previous lineup that got them to the semifinals of the MLG Columbus Major.
Yet no matter how great the lineup looked on paper, there was a clear problem. Pimp had previously played for the Danish lineup of SK which had played in the Major Qualifiers, so by Valve rules, he was not allowed to play for Liquid at ESL One Cologne. It meant Liquid had to find a standin and only had one month to prepare for the Major with that person. Hiko again pushed hard for s1mple; he loved s1mple too much not to. After all, the two of them had helped each other in the worst parts of their career and both had the burning desire to win above everything else. Hiko was able to convince the rest of the team the s1mple move would only be temporary, and s1mple’s pure firepower was too tantalizing to ignore.
This temporary lineup was possibly even more exciting than the initial announcement, as s1mple had the potential to be an all-time great player on the likes of Olof “olofmeister” Kajbjer Gustafsson or Richard “shox” Papillon. He was still unproven as he had only one superstar performance at MLG Columbus and his personality made it so he had team conflicts everywhere he went.
So Liquid had one month. In that one month it had two tournaments. The Esports Championship Series Finals and the ESL One Cologne Major. Peacemaker had to define the roles of every player, expand the map pool and somehow integrate s1mple into the system, a feat no other leader or coach had ever been able to force s1mple to do. And he only got one trial test run at the ECS Finals, where Liquid showed some promise as it beat G2 in a best-of-one and then lost to them 1-2 in the elimination match in the group stage.
On paper, Liquid had the most talent of any NA roster ever made. Yet it was impossible to say how well the team could do at the major. After all, many superstar lineups collapsed from a clash of personalities, a lack of synergy and/or no clear team identity. But peacemaker made it work.
With the raw talent and peacemaker’s system, Liquid made a miracle run as it beat EnVyUs and mousesports to make it out of Group C. Then they faced Natus Vincere, one of the top five teams in the world and arguably the next best after SK. Na`Vi won the first map on train and then they went to nuke, where the s1mple and Hiko duo edged it out. S1mple went insane and nearly won every T side round on nuke for Liquid. When they switched sides, Na`Vi was about to take the game, but Hiko clutched it again and again for the team. The final round was closed by nitr0 with an insane clutch. In the third map, s1mple destroyed Na`Vi and shut them out of the server. Liquid had done it, they had beaten one of the best teams in the world. Their reward? A battle with Fnatic.
Fnatic the supermen from Sweden. The roster that had won its first six events it attended consecutively. A team that could win anywhere at any time in any place against anyone. Fnatic had a slow and unconvincing run through the tournament so far, but they are the biggest champions the game has ever seen. And they almost always rise up to the occasion. In a semifinal match with all the pressure on, with more data than any team previous, it seemed like Fnatic could find the answer to Liquid.
Instead, Liquid found the answer to Fnatic. And the answer was to shoot them out of the server. On the first map, s1mple showed up to play and every other Liquid player had massive impact. They just couldn’t be stopped as they ran into sites and killed everyone. When it came to their CT side, they were in trouble for a bit, but Peacemaker called the timeout and had them switch to a passive setup, a setup that Fnatic couldn’t find an answer for. When it came to the second map, Liquid made a huge half on the CT side going 11-4. They then switched sides and Fnatic had a classic CT side as they quickly got 9 rounds back, but Liquid were able to clutch it out with notable performances from both s1mple and EliGE.
Liquid had done what no other NA team had ever accomplished: they had made it to the finals of a major. They had done it by beating two of the three best teams in the world. All that was left was SK, the same team that had denied Liquid three months ago in Columbus.
Yet the fairy tale couldn’t last forever. Love doesn’t always win. The finals has always been the match with the highest amount of pressure. It is where champions are formed and none of Liquid’s roster had ever been to a final of that magnitude. They crumbled and the clock struck midnight. The carriage had turned back into a pumpkin. The magic had disappeared and in its place was the visage of Marcelo “coldzera” David, the man who destroyed them at MLG Columbus and was destroying them again. Liquid was routed 2-0 in the finals.
Despite the loss, I cannot help but feel that this was an incredible run. The final encore of the s1mple and Hiko alliance. A vision of what could have been if the two had stayed together. Although they separate after this tournament, they and Liquid will always remember this moment. For one last night, for one last time, for one last tournament, Hiko and s1mple, s1mple and Hiko showed the world that miracles could happen. That love could win.
Photos: Helena Kristiansson/ESL, eslgaming.com.